Heptathlon heroine Nafi Thiam knows how to keep her cool on the world’s biggest stage. The Olympic champion shares some of her best tips.
For me, it is to empty the mind and remember to enjoy the experience.
I remember, I became very stressed competing at the 2012 World U20 Championships in Barcelona. I started to overthink and I fouled my first two attempts in the long jump. My mind then blew up and I was unable to stay calm and I ran through with my final jump [registering 4.39m]. I finished 14th overall, but I learned from that experience at my next major championship – the 2013 European Junior Championships [which she won with a national record 6298pts].
I always remind myself to relax and enjoy the moment and that competing at major championships is why I am involved in the sport.
Even when you think the body has reached its limits, it can be pushed a little further.
An example of this was at the Rio Olympics, when because of an elbow problem I was unable to throw for six weeks. During the shot, I started to feel my elbow, but I pushed through the pain to improve in the final round with 14.91m.
I also felt this in the javelin, but managed to throw a PB of 53.13m, which proves the body can be pushed further than you think.
When I was younger, I experienced a sudden growth spurt and for a period I had difficulties with co-ordination and controlling my tall body. To get through this period I really had to focus and re-educate my body to master movement patterns.
As heptathletes we have to try and perfect a whole range of different disciplines, and it is hard to have a flawless technique in every event. Consequently, at times when certain events don’t go smoothly, I try to go back to those basics like paying attention to lifting my knees in the high jump.
My coach told me that I could achieve great things, but I needed to believe it. He told me at the age of 18 the [indoor pentathlon] world record was possible and I went on to achieve it. Believing in yourself is important.
[Note, Thiam recorded the highest world indoor U20 pentathlon score ever in 2013 but the mark was never ratified because no doping control took place on the day.]
Tip for surviving the athletics circuit
As a multi-eventer I don’t compete at so many meetings on the circuit, but when I do, I think it is important to think that travelling outside of your own country to compete is an amazing opportunity. I know without athletics, I wouldn’t have travelled as much.
Best tip for surviving a heptathlon
The days are long, especially at major championships, so I would say make sure you do the absolute minimum necessary and relax as best you can between the events.
I’m ashamed to say I am a really bad cook! In the past I have cooked food which takes a really long time, so I would say try to find some recipe, which is quick and that you can cook well. My quick and easy recipe is chicken curry.
I don’t really follow trends, but I would say find something that fits you and your body and that you feel comfortable in.
It is from my mum who says, ‘asking for help, if you need it, is not a failure’. I used to try and work a lot out on my own, but asking for help sometimes is not such a bad thing.
My mum told me to expect everybody on the road to do stupid things, so if you think and anticipate this to be the case, it reduces your chance of an accident.
I always try to make sure I research the internet and find things to do which are a little off the beaten track. I recently went to New York for a couple of days and found out about going to the oldest magic store in the city – Tannen’s Magic Shop. I went to the sixth floor to buy some tricks and while I was there the staff helped teach me some new magic tricks. It was great fun, but one I wouldn’t have experienced if I had not taken the time out to research.
Social media tip
For me, social media gives me the chance to share and give greater exposure to athletics and to get more people interested in the sport.
I would say, just be yourself!